NHS waiting times for elective and cancer treatment

National Audit Office | March 2019 | NHS waiting times for elective and cancer treatment

A new report from the National Audit Office (NAO) has found that waiting time standards continues to get worse for both elective (non-urgent care) and cancer treatment, and the waiting list for elective care continues to grow. The review- NHS waiting times for elective and cancer treatment– presents data on the NHS’s performance against current waiting times standards for elective and cancer care in England, and some of the factors associated with that performance. It collates existing evidence and analysis by the Department, NHS England, NHS Improvement and other stakeholders.

NAO build on this evidence base with their own analysis to provide additional insight into:

  • changes in waiting times performance, and variations in that performance;
  • the impact of waiting times performance on patients;
  • the factors that influence waiting times performance; and
  • NHS England’s and NHS Improvement’s approach to managing and improving waiting times performance


ONS’ findings indicate that while increased demand and funding constraints affect the entire system, other factors that are linked to declining waiting time performance include NHS staff shortages for diagnostic services, a lack of available beds and pressure on trusts from emergency care.

The elective care waiting list grew from 2.7 million to 4.2 million between March 2013 and November 2018, while the number waiting more than 18 weeks grew from 153,000 to 528,000. During this period, the number of people treated each month increased from 1.2 million to 1.3 million.

A growing and ageing population only accounts for a relatively small proportion of the increase in referrals for elective care and cancer. For cancer, the major factor is likely to be NHS England’s policy of encouraging more urgent referrals to improve early cancer diagnosis. However, the reason behind the increase in elective referrals is less well understood by the NHS.

The plan also commits to increasing the proportion of patients diagnosed with cancer at early stages from 50% to 75% by 2028. The NHS is now preparing local implementation plans for these new commitments. It is hard to see how the NHS will be able to recover its position on waiting times in the near future without significant investment in staffing and infrastructure (Source: NAO).

Full details from NAO

Full report- NHS waiting times for elective and cancer treatment

Summary- NHS waiting times for elective and cancer treatment 

ePub- NHS waiting times for elective and cancer treatment

See also:

NAO Press release 

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